§ SIR JOHN HAY,
in moving the Amendment of which he had given notice, for an Address praying Her Majesty to nominate the town of Wakefield as the assize town for the West Riding of Yorkshire, said, he was extremely glad to find, by the answer which the Home Secretary had given to the hon. Member for the North Riding, that in making the present Motion he was not asking the House to repeal any Order in Council. The Government, as he understood their answer, had decided that the West Riding was to have a separate assize, but it had not decided where it was to be holden. It had previously been supposed, from communications received by the Mayors of Wakefield and Sheffield, that the Government had decided in favour of Leeds, and this decision had caused great surprise and indignation among the majority of the inhabitants of the West Riding, who were under the apprehension that the interests of the West Riding were about to be sacrificed to those of the borough of Leeds. He was not about to trouble the House at any length, but in order to explain the grounds upon which his Motion was based, it would be necessary to go back to the year 1832, when the Common Law Commission reported, under the signatures of several eminent Judges, to the effect that the extent of the County of York was so great and the population of the West Riding so numerous, that an additional Assize district for the West Riding was desirable. In 1857 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the place where it ought to be holden, and of that Commission, presided over by the late Lord Campbell, the late Speaker was a Member, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Droitwitch (Sir John Pakington), and his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten). In their Report they declared themselves unanimously against a separate assize being held in the town of Leeds; but as to the suitability of Wakefield for the purpose a difference of opinion existed. Among 801 the signatures to that document were the names of Sir John Pakington and Colonel Wilson Patten, who thought that "Wakefield had established its claim. Having communicated with the Home Office he was informed that the Government had come to no decision, and that the matter had been referred for the decision of the Privy Council, consisting of the Lord President, the Lord Chancellor, and the Yorkshire Privy Councillors. The Privy Council humbly reported to Her Majesty an opinion in favour of Leeds. This opinion had given great surprise and offence to the inhabitants of the West Riding. He was glad however that the Government had not acted on the opinion of the Privy Council until the West Riding had had an opportunity of expressing its opinion, because there were only six Privy Councillors present, and but one of those was a Yorkshireman. He referred to the Earl De Grey and Ripon, who, he was informed, had always expressed a strong opinion in favour of Leeds; an opinion not shared by other Yorkshire Privy Councillors. Of 350 magistrates for the West Riding, 191 were of opinion that the assizes ought to be held at Wakefield, only fifty-nine were in favour of Leeds, and the remaining magistrates expressing no opinion. Among those in favour of Wakefield were Sir Charles Wood, Lord Houghton, Mr. Forster, the hon. Member for Northumberland (Mr. W. B. Beaumont), who had much property in Yorkshire, the hon. Members for Wenlock, Malton, and York, and almost every West Riding man who had been High Sheriff of Yorkshire. Fifty-six Petitions had been sent to the Home Office in favour of Wakefield, while there was no record of any Petition in favour of Leeds. Thus a large majority of the inhabitants, the magistrates, the Privy Councillors, and the Members of the West Riding were in favour of Wakefield. The population of the West Riding was about 1,600,000 souls. To 900,000 of these Wakefield would be the nearer and more convenient town, as against 700,000 who would be nearer to Leeds. The population around Wakefield too was increasing at the rate of 17½ per cent, while the population on the Leeds side of the county was only increasing at the rate of 9 per cent. But then it was said that Wakefield laboured under an insufficiency of railway accommodation. There were, however, not less than 187 passenger trains a day from Wakefield to all parts of Yorkshire, and 802 Wakefield was in fact in communication with as many railways as Leeds. The courts at Wakefield were superior to those at Leeds, and the music hall at Wakefield was to be placed at the disposal of the Government for Assize purposes. The Town Hall at Leeds was no doubt a magnificent building; but an additional rate must be levied upon the county in order to provide Assize Courts at Leeds. The county buildings at Wakefield had cost £250,000, and there was ample accommodation for the learned Judges and the bar. The county prisoners were all committed to Wakefield before trial, and if the assizes were held at Leeds the county would be put to the expense and inconvenience of removing them to Leeds for trial. Would it, then, be either wise or just to have the gaol delivery at Leeds? Wakefield, too, was the headquarters of the county constabulary, while in Leeds there was only the borough police, over whom the High Sheriff had no control. If the assizes were held at Leeds, it would be the only instance in which the capital town of any county had been passed over. If the precedent were followed the assizes must be removed from Warwick to Birmingham, from Exeter to Plymouth, and from Lewes to Brighton. The reasons which he had set forth, which were matters of fact within the cognizance of many hon. Gentlemen within that House, were sufficient to prove how undesirable it was that a heavy tax should be laid upon the West Riding solely for the benefit of the town of Leeds, and to the manifest disadvantage and dissatisfaction of the people of the district who were not inhabitants of that town. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Amendment.
§ MR. LEATHAM
rose to second the Motion which had been so ably moved by his hon. and gallant Friend. It would be admitted on all hands that the consideration which ought to govern the decision of this question was the public convenience of the West Riding. The town at which the business of the assizes could be conducted with the greatest convenience and despatch and with the least expense to the litigants ought, cateris paribus, to be selected, unless it could be shown that it laboured under some great disadvantage on some subsidiary point. His hon. and gallant Friend had shown, by figures which admitted of no dispute, that Wakefield was nearer the great bulk of the population of the district in the immense proportion of 803 three to two. ["Hear, hear!"] The case of "Wakefield could be proved upon an authority which even his hon. Friend (Mr. Baines), who cheered so vociferously, could hardly dispute, and which stated that, taking the whole of the Riding, Wakefield seemed to have a larger population residing near to it than Leeds. That was a proposition for which his hon. Friend was responsible. [Mr. BAINES: I have never made such a statement.] The admission was not made by his hon. Friend personally, but it appeared in a journal with which his hon. Friend was generally believed to have something to do; it was not competent, therefore, for his hon. Friend, who disported himself with such ease and grace among figures, to come down to the House and argue that this was a question simply between the larger population of Leeds and the smaller population of Wakefield, whereas the question really was between the larger population near Wakefield and the smaller population near Leeds. In anticipation of the speech which would be made by his hon. Friend, he would touch upon a few of the main points raised in a document which had been prepared on the subject. It was stated in the document that in relation to the manufacturing and mercantile districts Leeds was the more central town. But there was no mention of the agricultural districts, of which Wakefield was the acknowledged centre. The great cattle and corn markets were both at Wakefield, notwithstanding the spasmodic efforts which had been made to bring them to Leeds. He denied that Leeds was the central town of the manufacturing districts. He held in his hand a map in which the relative positions of Leeds and the various towns of the Riding were marked, and so far from Leeds being at the centre, it was on the very margin—an outpost, as it were—of manufacture. Bradford was the chief seat of the woollen trade, Sheffield of the hardware trade, and Wakefield of the corn trade. They had been told that Leeds contained 200,000 inhabitants; he never knew until lately how they were stowed away, but upon looking at the map he found the borough of Leeds was a district extending eight miles north and south, and six miles east and west. Now, if the same rule were applied to Wakefield, its population would be not 20,000 but 90,000. And besides, was it certain that this large population was an advantage to Leeds? He would not yield to his hon. Friend in the 804 confidence which he reposed in the attachment to order and loyalty to the Crown of the working classes, whom his hon. Friend had taken under his protection; but would his hon. Friend guarantee the good conduct of the substratum which lay beneath? That huge mass of population, less instructed, less orderly, migratory, aliens in race and in creed—would his hon. Friend engage for them? ["Hear, hear!"] His hon. Friend was a sanguine man; but suppose in a time of great excitement a breach of the peace were committed, or one of those atrocious outrages occurred which had made the name of Sheffield notorious, would his hon. Friend guarantee that the authorities would have just the same confidence in the working classes as his hon. Friend, and that they would not endeavour to insure the public peace by a display of military force, or by changing the venue? But to change the venue was to instil suspicion of the accused, and to resort to a display of military force was to provoke the very danger which it was intended to avert. But there was another drawback, that, owing to its dense population and to the immense "mass of steam machinery collected there, the air of Leeds had become vitiated to an extraordinary degree. It was proverbially dense, and was charged with noxious vapours. Any hon. Member might judge for himself; he had only to visit Leeds by one of those lines of railway about which so much had been said, and as he approached the place he would have leisure to observe the gradual decay of vegetation, that the trees had dwindled into shrubs, the shrubs into sapless stumps, and the very grass bore evidence against his hon. Friend, for it became of an invisible green. As for the atmosphere, it grew murkier and murkier every step, until at last the sun seemed scarcely able to struggle through the impenetrable black mask which rested for ever on the face of that unfortunate town. This question of fresh air was of great importance to the litigants, the bar, and the bench. But there was another claim advanced on behalf of Leeds on the ground of railway communication. But if the rumour were true of a gigantic project for additional railway accommodation, Leeds was not too well provided after all. With respect to railway accommodation, let any hon. Gentleman consult Bradshaw, if he were a person of great leisure and strong intellect, and he would find that there was no 805 town in the kingdom to which a greater number of railways converged than to Wakefield; and there were no provincial towns better provided with, trains. An additional railway was in course of construction, and when it was finished there would be two hundred trains a day in and out of Wakefield. One ground on which Leeds preferred its claim to be an assize town was, that a large proportion of criminal business originated there. The hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Baines) might endeavour to make out that his constituents were located in a sink of iniquity; but, if so, the hon. Member should cease his laudable efforts to aid philanthropic societies, whose object was to raise "the character of Leeds, unless, indeed, he desired to destroy one great claim which Leeds had, on account of its extra criminality, to be selected as a place for holding assizes. Another claim was, that the Bankruptcy Court was held at Leeds; but the jurisdiction of that court was not co-extensive with the West Biding, but with the whole county of York, and a portion of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. That was the only institution of more than a local character which Leeds had to place against the numerous institutions in Wakefield. Then, great stress was laid upon the Leeds Town Hall, for the erection of which the borough rates had been mortgaged for many years to come. The Town Hall always appeared to him to be staring with well-bred surprize at the extraordinary collection of buildings around it. Leeds was the worst built town in the whole Riding, and did not possess a single substantial claim to be a county town. Compared with the dignity and prestige of York, Leeds was only distinguished by bulk and bustle. One great authority in Leeds—an authority which his hon. Friend behind him would not dispute—stated that the court there had the defect of not being a good place for hearing—what greater defect could there be for a court of law than that? He had received a letter giving an account of the case of a man tried for embezzlement at Leeds on two counts; one charging him with the embezzlement of 10s. 6d., and the other with the embezzlement of £2 18s. 6d. The whole of the questions put by the prisoner in conducting his defence had reference to the smaller sum; and when the chairman directed his attention to the other sum of £2 18s. 6d. the prisoner said that he had not heard a word 806 about that charge, but he then produced receipts for the money. The chairman, turning to the jury, observed that there was an end to the case, and the jury immediately acquitted the prisoner, who had not heard the evidence of the witnesses, situated not five yards from him. About this time last year the people of Leeds perceived that their case was becoming desperate, and they went over to Sheffield. He supposed that the hon. Member (Mr. Hadfield) who rose to speak, but sat down at the cry of "Order!" meant to say that the people of Sheffield went over to Leeds; but, at all events, the two joined forces. Now, in 1858, a deputation from Wakefield, attended by the hon. Member for Sheffield among others, had an interview with the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), who was then Home Secretary. Upon that occasion the Member for Sheffield strongly pressed the claims of Wakefield, observing that on such a matter the convenience of the public ought to be the first thing to be considered, and that that convenience would be best considered by admitting the claims of Wakefield—the hon. Member also observed that Leeds would be scarcely less inconvenient than York for the assize town. The hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Wickham), and the then hon. Member for Halifax (Sir Francis Crossley), expressed similar opinions. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Knaresborough, who was also in favour of Wakefield, because there, he said, one could have a country walk and enjoy the fresh air when the Court rose, whereas in Leeds it took one two hours to escape from the smoky atmosphere of the town. He was not versed in all the details of the diplomatic arrangement between Sheffield and Leeds. It might be, as the hon. Member for Sheffield had said, that his constituents first communicated with Leeds. They all knew what happened when the lion and the jackal went out hunting together. The king of beasts secured the lion's share, while the poor, weak-minded jackal had to slink away with its tail between its legs. Sheffield was exactly in the predicament of the latter. The good people of Leeds did their best to keep up the spirits of their friends at Sheffield, telling them that if Wakefield had been made an assize town the chances of Sheffield acquiring that honour would have been destroyed, because its inhabitants would 807 then have had no grievance. There were many good reasons why Sheffield had no claim to be an assize town, apart from the fact that it had no prison, no courts, and no proper accommodation for the Judges. In July, 1863, a meeting of the Leeds Town Council was held to consider this question, at which one of the Aldermen, a gentleman of undoubted influence and authority, observed that it was absurd to say that Sheffield had advantages at all equal to Leeds, and quoted the opinion of Mr. Talbot Baines, that Leeds ought not to join forces with Sheffield in this matter. The same gentleman referred in strong terms to the prevalence of trade outrages at Sheffield. In fact, all the objections applicable to Leeds might be urged with still greater force against Sheffield. He never believed that the House or the Government would attempt to carry out the scheme of setting up an assize town in every corner of the Riding, instead of establishing one in a central situation, where business could be transacted with convenience to all the inhabitants of the Riding. The utmost wonder prevailed throughout the Riding when the decision of the Committee of the Privy Council was made known. None were more surprised than the people of Leeds themselves. He was informed that an important journal in that town, after having buoyed up the hopes of the citizens as long as it could, had, on the eve of the decision of the Privy Council, prepared what was called a "let-them-down-easy" article. The Leeds folk were highly elated. All the bells rung joy-peals, so that you would have thought everybody was going to be married; and in their exultation the Town Council had even some idea of sending a present of crape to the Corporation of Wakefield. Nobody knew what to make of the decision. By-and-bye, however, there came rumours attributing the success of Leeds to the exertions of his hon. Friend the Member for that borough. It was said to be the victory of the importunate widow over again. Ministers, it seemed, stood in awe of his hon. Friend, for he had not only command of a powerful organ of public opinion in the north of England, but went about carrying with him a single-barreled Reform Bill at full cock. Of course, he did not mean to justify these wild and improbable reports. He referred to them merely to show how puzzled the people in Yorkshire were to account for 808 the extraordinary decision of the Privy Council. He now left the question to the House, feeling confident that they would be guided in their vote by considerations of public convenience, and that they would respect the desire of the Riding, as expressed through innumerable petitions, through the voices of Members of the House, and last, not least, through the opinions of a great majority of the county magistrates.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, representing to Her Majesty, the town of Wake-field, the capital of the West Riding of Yorkshire, as the place suggested by a large Majority of the Magistrates of the West Riding as the best for holding an Assize; that Wakefield, containing as it docs the West Riding Prison, the head quarters of the West Riding Constabulary, the West Riding Register Office, and the West Hiding Probate Office, is also geographically the central town of the West Riding, and possesses every convenience in courts, railway communication, and hotel accommodation for the purpose; and praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to nominate the town of Wakefield as the assize town for the West Riding of Yorkshire,"—(Sir John Hay.)
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he would briefly state to the House the reasons why he thought they ought not to agree to the Address to Her Majesty, moved by the hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield (Sir John Hay), and seconded in a very amusing speech, characterized by great talent, zeal, and ingenuity, by the hon. Member below the gangway (Mr. Leatham), who, although not at present Member for Wakefield, was a resident in that town. First of all, what was the law on the subject? The statute, which was passed in the reign of William IV., after reciting two Acts of Parliament of Richard II., empowering the Lord Chancellor for the time being to fix the places where the assizes should be held, transferred the duty of making these arrangements to the Sovereign, acting on the advice of the Privy Council; the object, as stated in the Preamble to the Act, being to provide for the cheap, speedy, and efficient administration of justice. Such being the law, the facts of the case were these:— For some time past the Government had received numerous memorials from the West Riding of Yorkshire, praying that Her Majesty would divide that county into more than one district for 809 assize purposes. Memorials had also been received from Leeds, Wakefield, and Sheffield, on the assumption that the former request would be acceded to, praying that their claims might be considered in the determination of the question where the new assizes should be held. All the memorials on this subject were, by Her Majesty's command, referred to the Committee of the Privy Council, in order that they might consider them, and after weighing the facts tender their advice to Her Majesty. Reference had been made to "the importunate widow," and he might say that he never was subject to so much importunity on almost any subject. He must bear testimony to the zeal the hon. Member for Wakefield had shown, both publicly and privately, in the matter. He had also received repeated applications from the hon. Members for Leeds and Sheffield. He gave one and the same answer to all these Gentlemen, that the question was one on which he must reserve his opinion, that it did not lie with him to decide it, and that an order must be made on the subject by Her Majesty in Council, after the question had been considered by a Committee of the Privy Council. Every document received at the Home Office on the question was forwarded to the Council Office, in order that it might be printed and placed in the hands of the members of the Committee. The Lord Chancellor (who had looked very carefully into the matter, was a member of the Committee, and the President of the Council) summoned to the Committee two Members of the Government, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for India (Sir Charles Wood), and the noble Lord the Secretary of State for "War (Earl De Grey), who were connected with Yorkshire, and possessed a local acquaintance with the subject. Two law Lords were also added, who had, as Common Law Judges, well known the Northern Circuits — Lords Wensleydale and Cranworth. His right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Council (Mr. Lowe) and himself were also summoned to attend. An inquiry was made of the parties interested whether the whole of the case of Leeds, Sheffield, and Wakefield respectively, was contained in the documents transmitted to the Council Office, and they answered that it was. It had been said that Earl De Grey went into the Committee with his mind already made up in favour of Leeds. 810 His reply to that was, that when he entered the Committee with Earl De Grey, he did not know what the opinion of his noble Friend was. After considering all the documents laid before them, and deliberating carefully on the subject, the Committee came to the conclusion—without reference to political or private interests, but with a single view to the convenience of the West Riding, and the cheap, speedy, and effectual administration of justice—that Leeds had a preferable claim. Reference had been made, much to his surprise, to the opinion of the magistrates; for the fact was well known, that if the magistrates' opinion was to prevail, a large majority were decidedly against any change whatever. He trusted the House would not, at the instigation of the hon. and gallant Member for Wakefield (Sir John Hay), without having one authentic document before it, but simply on the perusal of ex parte statements, such as were circulated in the case of a Private Bill, decide a question which could only be decided after due deliberation, and with a full knowledge of all the facts. No doubt the House had a right to address the Crown on this or any other subject; but in the absence of all information it would, he was sure, refuse to interfere with the ordinary course prescribed by law, and set aside the decision of the Privy Council. It was not correct to assert that the Government had suspended action in order that the opinion of the inhabitants of the West Riding might be more definitely ascertained. The case was the same as that of Manchester. Long ago it was decided that an assize should be held in Manchester; but no order in Council had yet been issued, simply because it was necessary that proper provision should be made beforehand for the holding of an assize there. So it was with Leeds. Advice had been tendered to Her Majesty in favour of holding an assize in that town, and if an Order in Council had not been issued, it was not because the Government wished to suspend proceedings, but because the requisite accommodation had not yet been provided. On the whole, notwithstanding the stirring and amusing nature of the appeals which had been addressed to it, he hoped the House would not be led into the consideration of the merits of this case without having the means of arriving at a safe and sound conclusion.
§ MR. BEECROFT
said, he congratulated the Borough of Wakefield in having for its 811 able representative his hon. and gallant Friend who was ever ready to stand forth as its champion even under the most adverse circumstances. His hon. and gallant Friend would however, perhaps, allow him to say a word or two on behalf of Leeds: and, in the first place, he must remind him and the House that Her Majesty's Privy Council was fully apprised of the opinions of the county magistrates when it came to its decision in favour of appointing Leeds as the assize town for the West Riding, and that decision was no doubt arrived at from the fact, that the claims of Leeds were found to be irresistible. The majority of the "West Riding magistrates were not in favour of Wakefield being made the assize town; 158 magistrates voted for Wakefield and fifty-seven for Leeds, and as there were about 360 magistrates in the Riding, it appeared about 150 abstained from voting. The West Riding contained 1,700,000 acres, and was larger than any county in England or Wales, except Lincoln. The population was 1,500,000, being one-twelfth of the population of England. Leeds was by far the most populous town in the Riding, and was the centre of a large manufacturing and mercantile district, and contained, according to the last census, 207,000 inhabitants, and within a radius of ten miles of Leeds there were 600,000 inhabitants. Wakefield, had a population of 23,000, and was only a little more than eight miles from Leeds. Common sense told us, that as between these two places, the small population should go to the large town, and not the large population to the small town; he was much surprised, therefore, that any one should attempt to set up the claims of Wakefield as being superior to those of Leeds. Leeds was the centre to which all the railways in the Riding, with one or two unimportant exceptions, converged, and had frequent access to all parts, and in nearly all cases without change of carrriage or line of railway. Leeds had 120 arrivals per rail per day, and the same number of departures, and in these respects was far better situated than any town in the Riding. The House would admit that this facility of access was the best means of rendering the administration of justice cheap, and was a great convenience to commercial men, as they could come from almost any part of the Biding before the opening of the court in the morning, and return home after the 812 close of the court in the evening. Leeds, on account of its great population, and being the seat of the most important trades in the Riding, had more than an average share of cases for trial, and had contributed much more largely than any other town in the Riding to the civil and commercial business of the assizes. For this reason, when bankruptcy courts were instituted, Leeds was chosen as the principal, and Sheffield as a branch court. For similar reasons the assizes for Northumberland were removed to Newcastle, and South Lancashire to Liverpool, simply because of the large population, amount of accommodation, and facility of access, &c. The population of Leeds was loyal, well affected, very peaceable, no riot of any consequence having ever taken place in it. The great variety of trades prevented the working classes being subject to any general trade distress and conduced to their contentment and peaceable habits. If Leeds was not the natural centre of the Riding, why did the railway companies choose it as their terminus instead of Wakefield? Wakefield had almost equal railway communication with Leeds, but it was accidental, being in the valley; and when railways were first made they could not work districts which they can now; for instance — direct from Manchester to Leeds viâ Dews-bury. If they had been able to do it then, Wakefield would only have been an out-of-the-way place on a branch. What induced railway companies to centre in Leeds was its business and importance, and being the natural centre of the district; and the same reasons applied to assizes. Newcastle was at the extreme verge of Northumberland, and Liverpool at the extreme verge of South Lancashire. In all these cases the assizes were taken to large places, though at extreme points; but they had large populations, good and plentiful accommodation, and were centres of railways, and therefore had direct access to most parts of their respective districts. Leeds had these advantages of population, of accommodation and of railway access, and besides which it was central, which they were not. His hon. and gallant Friend had alluded to the hotel accommodation in Wakefield. Now, he really must differ with him in this respect; there were no superior hotels in Wakefield, but certainly sufficient for the accommodation of 23,000 inhabitants, although anything but sufficient for the accommodation for the number of people 813 frequenting the assizes. The railway stations at Wakefield were not good, and passengers had to wait till trains came up, as they were only roadside stations. In Leeds, passengers could wait in a first-class hotel, and know the moment they start, because it was a terminus. Was it not, therefore, idle to talk about the claims of Wakefield being superior to those of Leeds? He could understand the city of York being opposed to any change: it had many associations connected with it which, beyond mere possession, had given it a sort of claim to continue the assize town of the county. It could not be wondered at that its influence should have been exercised to the utmost to retain them. How, then, it would be asked, had the change been at last brought about? He answered, by the sheer necessity of the case. The claims were so strong the Government could no longer resist them. The area of the Hiding, the increase of its population, the extent of its commerce, and the consequent amount of assize business, both civil and criminal, which necessarily arose within it, exceeded those of many of the counties, which each possessed a separate assize, put together. Then, where were the new assizes to be held? The same considerations furnished the ready answer. The centre of the densest of the population, surrounded immediately by numbers greater than those which people many a county —itself furnishing a very large proportion of the business of an assize, and supplying the most intelligent class of jurymen that could be empanelled, and possessed already of all the necessary courts and buildings — whither, but to Leeds, could an impartial tribunal bring the business that it had once determined to remove from York? The citizens of York need not, however, fear that their ancient city would ever cease to be regarded as the metropolis of the great county of York. He could easily understand the prejudices of the magistracy and the county gentlemen, and their old associations with the county town—these were very natural; but they must remember that when York was made an assize town, it was the largest and most important town, not only in Yorkshire, but in the north of England, and now the population was concentrated in quite a different direction. The magistrates of the West Riding, he knew, wished to retain York as the assize town for the whole of York- 814 shire; but for what reason they should prefer the small town of Wakefield to Leeds as an assize town, was to him, he confessed, a great mystery. He, therefore, asked the House, was justice to be brought to the doors of the people or not? Were the prejudices of county gentlemen, however natural, to be considered before the public convenience? He asked these questions with confidence. Was the public convenience of the great masses of the people to be considered or not? That was the question which this House had to decide. He believed that the House would not attempt to reverse or overrule the decision already arrived at by Her Majesty's Privy Council, and he also believed the people of the West Riding—even the magistrates— would, after calm consideration and due reflection, regard that decision as wise and judicious.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
wished to correct an omission in his previous statement. He had mentioned the names of Lord Wensleydale and the Secretary of State for India as among the Members of the Committee of Privy Council, but neither of them was able to attend personally: they sent the President their opinions in writing.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he thought that this matter had been taken entirely out of the jurisdiction of the House. An Act of Parliament had been passed, giving the Privy Council the power to determine this question, and it had been determined accordingly. ["No!"] The Privy Council had determined it; they had said that the assizes should be removed from York to the West Riding, and they also recommended that Leeds should be the town fixed upon. They waited till Leeds had done certain things, and till certain documents should be issued, before they made it decisive that Leeds should be the new assize town; but still it should be distinctly understood that the Privy Council had decided. Parliament had declared that the Privy Council was the best tribunal to judge of that matter, and that tribunal had had before it all sorts of evidence. He had himself laid before the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey) certain evidence, and he regretted that that weight had not been given to it which he desired; but still he bowed to the decision. But the House had no evidence before it, and they were precluded from doing anything in the matter. They, perhaps, did not know what they were about when they passed an Act of Parfia- 815 ment; but, having given this power to the Privy Council, they ought not to interfere with its decision. He knew that country gentleman liked a country town with a country atmosphere; but he could not pretend to share the fantastical notions of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham), who spoke of the horrors of Leeds. He could not very well understand how the hon. Gentleman coming from Huddersfield should pretend a wish to escape from the horrors of Leeds. He could very well understand how the country gentlemen should prefer Wakefield to Leeds, and prefer York to either. They might have their dances and their flirtations at Wakefield, and they might not like the society they would meet at Leeds. All that might weigh with the country gentlemen of York, but it should not weigh with the Parliament of England. He spoke merely as the mouthpiece of his constituents, having no feeling on the matter himself. His constituents told him that they desired Leeds to be chosen, and their desire in such a matter he took as a command, although in matters Imperial he would not take their opinion for more than it was worth. He, therefore, spoke in favour of Leeds, and hoped the House would not stultify their previous votes by now voting this Address.
§ COLONEL SMYTH
said, he had heard the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) with some astonishment, because only that day week that hon. and learned Gentleman went with his Colleague and himself on a deputation to the Home Office and asked that Sheffield might be united to York for assize purposes. Therefore, since that day week the opinions of the people of Sheffield must have greatly changed. As long ago as the date of the Report of the Commission, to which his hon. and gallant Friend had alluded, this question had been more or less agitated; and in 1858 a memorial was sent to the then Home Secretary, signed by an overwhelming majority of the magistrates, in favour of the retention of the county assizes at York; but many of the magistrates said that if there was to be a change, Wakefield was the place that should be selected, and not Leeds. On several subsequent occasions the feeling of the magistrates had been expressed to the like effect, in every instance the majority being adverse to any removal of the assizes at all from York. What they complained of, therefore, was that the opinions 816 of the justices having been asked by the Government three or four separate times, and always with the same result, a determination of the Privy Council, diametrically opposed to those opinions, should have been taken. That, he thought, was a sufficient reason for raising this question again. Moreover, the decision of the Privy Council was arrived at by a narrow majority, and he believed that if Lord Wensleydale and the Secretary of State for India had been present, they would have been in favour of Wakefield instead of Leeds. When Leeds was selected, the intelligence was received with a surprise amounting to something like indignation by every one whose opinion had been sought. He should support the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend.
§ MR. BAINES
said, this question had been already settled by the authority to which it had been delegated by Parliament. The Acts 3 & 4 Will. IV. and 27 & 28 Vict, concurred in giving power to the Privy Council to decide questions of this nature, and, after patient and mature deliberation, they had decided in favour of Leeds. Would that House constitute itself as a court of appeal against the Privy Council? The case was as complete for Leeds as it was for Manchester, to which the assizes of a portion of South Lancashire had been transferred. It was the intention of our old law that the assizes should be held in the principal town of each county, and there could be no doubt that Leeds was the principal town of the West Riding. Contracts for land and buildings and other arrangements, involving the expenditure of large sums of money, had already been entered into at Leeds, under the belief that the assizes were to be transferred to that town; and all those engagements and the consequent expenses which had been incurred, would be nullified if the House should interfere to set aside the decision of the Privy Council. It had been stated that 282,000 of the inhabitants of the West Riding were nearer to Wakefield than to Leeds; but that calculation had been made upon the data supplied by a period which preceded the development of the railway system; and the latest estimate of population and the most recent railway time tables showed that 60,000 of the people of the West Riding had more easy access to Leeds than to Wakefield. Leeds was the most central as well as the most populous part of the West Riding. Its industry and commerce 817 were greater, it possessed much superior accommodation for an assize town than Wakefield, and there was no reason for attempting to disturb the decision of the Privy Council, and he hoped the House would not sanction any such attempt.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, he was not a Yorkshireman, and had no connection with the West Riding, and he was, therefore, a perfectly impartial witness in that matter; but he had been a member of the Royal Commission, which, in the year 1857, sat to consider the question. He could confirm the statement of his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir John Hay), that the Commission, which was presided over by Lord Campbell, and of which Lord Wensleydale and Baron Martin were members, arrived at a unanimous decision against transferring the assizes of the West Riding to Leeds. It was true that a majority of the Commission were in favour of retaining the assizes at York; but a minority, which included his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten) and himself, were of opinion that the case for establishing a separate assizes for the West Riding had been made out, and that such assizes ought to be held at Wakefield; and he believed that if the Commission had merely to choose between the claims of Wakefield and Leeds, the majority, if not the whole of its members, would have decided in favour of the former town. The population of the West Riding were nearer to Wakefield than to Leeds, in the ratio of seven to five; and the great prison of the West Riding, as well as the Court of Quarter Sessions, and the principal police station, were at Wakefield. He could see no constitutional objection to the House addressing the Crown upon that subject; and if the Motion were pressed to a division, he should feel it his duty to give effect to his opinion as a member of the Royal Commission, by voting in favour of it.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, he had not denied that the House had a constitutional right to address the Crown in such a case.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, that at a meeting of many of the most influential inhabitants of Sheffield it was resolved that Leeds ought to be the assize town of the West Riding; but the people present at that meeting intended to ask hereafter that there should be a further division of the Riding, and that Sheffield should ultimately become an assize town.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 138; Noes 119: Majority 19.